Motionless in liquid nitrogen, the bodies of would-be time travellers are being stored in an almighty gamble on the future.
The ‘lifeboat to the future’ in Arizona involves humans and pets being cryo-preserved in the hope that future technology brings them back to life.
Among the ‘patients’ being stored in sub-freezing, rocket-like cylinders are said to be household names who wanted to take part in frontier science after their legal deaths.
James M. Arrowood, of the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, gave Metro.co.uk a tantalising look at the world of cryo-suspension and those who have signed up.
More than 200 patients, including Brits, have their bodies or heads in storage courtesy of the non-profit research company in the hope of an ‘amazing’ future reawakening.
‘Some of the most pre-eminent people the world has ever known are stored with Alcor,’ Mr Arrowood said.
‘We have household names from science and technology who have signed up because they want to be part of this mission and experiment.
‘They include people who have changed the world.
‘Our recovery teams co-ordinate with their security teams and the process is often done anonymously.
‘For confidential members, everyone is given a number and no one is known by their name, with only a few of the Deployment and Recovery Team (DART) members and a few of Alcor’s executives knowing who they are.
‘But it’s not just for rich people. Approximately 80% of our members are what we could call middle class and have signed up through life insurance.
‘Many people realise it’s a remote possibility.
‘But it’s like a lottery ticket and if it doesn’t work you will never know, so there’s nothing to lose yet you can greatly contribute to valuable scientific research by donating your body in this way.’
Established in 1972 by Fred Chamberlain III and his wife Linda, Alcor currently has 225 in-suspension patients and 1,424 living members signed up for an existence at –192C (-377F).
Fred’s father, Col Fred Chamberlain Jr, became the first patient after his clinical death in 1976. The son then went into suspension after his ‘pause’ in 2012, while Linda still works for Alcor.
Cryonics advocates look to radical strides in medical science such as nanotechnology to revive patients as well as the ability to reverse the ageing process and cure terminal conditions.
Ideally, the process begins as soon as a patient is declared dead, with the body being cooled and transported to Arizona for ‘vitrification’, where cryoprotectants are pumped into the bloodstream to act as anti-freeze.
The patient is then suspended in long-term storage designed to protect the body from deterioration for hundreds or thousands of years.
Mr Arrowood, Alcor’s co-chief executive and president, explained the process involving the DART team, which can be sent anywhere in the world within a few hours if someone is sick, dying or has had their legal death.
‘Time is crucial as we try to get to the patient while there is still living tissue,’ he said. ‘We perform a type of CPR to keep the blood flowing through the body and we pump in a special chemical, a kind of liquid gold, to prevent freezing damage to the cells while they are still alive.
‘Then we bring either the head or the full body, depending on what the patient has signed up for, back to Alcor.
‘We then gradually cool the patient to a glass-like state in a carefully monitored chamber over three to five days before placing them in a vat of liquid nitrogen at –196C.
‘We also do a CT scan to check the condition of the patient’s brain, which also contributes to the research side of our work.
‘Our first patient was Col. Fred R. Chamberlain JR, the father of Alcor co-founder Fred Chamberlain III, in 1976.
‘But we have brains spanning three centuries, including one from the 1800s, which is incredibly valuable for scientific purposes.’
Critics of cryonics view the process as fanciful pseudoscience, with Dr Miriam Stoppard, a journalist and doctor, previously saying the process ‘robs the dying of their dignity’.
However Alcor members have gone on record to explain their long-term commitment to the process, which costs a minimum of $80,000 (£63,000) for neuro-cryopreservation and $200,000 (£16,000) for whole body storage.
Louise Gold, who signed up in 1999, said: ‘I want to live in the future but I also don’t want to die so I’m doing everything possible to keep that at bay.
‘I’m into health and nutrition and I want to hopefully let medical science catch up and let me live longer but in case it doesn’t or an accident befalls me then I can be assured that at least when I’m preserved in Alcor then there’s a chance that medical science can bring me back.
‘I’m very interested in the future, I wish I was born 30 years later.
‘It’s an opportunity to experience more life and also I would like to know what people in the future would like to know about me, my experiences and what it was like being a child of the 60s and 70s.’
The ‘travellers’ have been given encouragement from some present-day scientific developments, also including stem cell treatment and Elon Musk’s claim to have implanted a wireless chip in a human brain.
‘There’s no scientific reason why a brain could not be transplanted in the same way that say, a kidney can be today,’ Mr Arrowood said.
‘Medically, right now, the challenge is that they don’t know how to attach the spinal cord and related vasculature.
‘In another theoretical example of what’s called “revival technology”, the brain could be connected to a computer, or a robot.
‘We can see this conceptually in Elon Musk’s Neuralink which has implanted a chip in the brain for the first time.
‘Another theory, which I personally prefer, is that the body could be cloned without a working brain and the brain could then be transplanted.’
Most of the patients are stored in Scottsdale, Pheonix, but an undisclosed number are being looked after remotely.
At least one is being suspended away from the facility in a ‘dewar’, a container which has to be looked after in a very specific way.
While cryonics might be a gamble, the jackpot is one of revolutionary possibilities.
‘If it doesn’t work, you’re never going to know,’ Mr Arrowood said.
‘If it does work, then for me on a personal level I know who is in the dewars, which is like the recipe for Coca-Cola. Only a few people know who they are.
‘I may be next to people who have singularly changed the world through technology and science.
‘I want to get to talk to those people once our lifeboat, or our cruise ship because it holds more passengers, has arrived in the future.
‘To me, this would be absolutely, phenomenally, amazing.
‘This is what fascinates, intrigues and interests me.
‘People say that your family will be gone and you will be lonely but there will be an exclusive group of people “revived” if it ever happens, and as a result, a tonne of new people to meet.’
Do you have a story you would like to share? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org